CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK
Torture of a cleric and social critic, Pastor Okochi Obeni, in the Amasiri community, Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, is still generating ripples, reports UCHENNA INYA
The leader of the Isi-oru age grade that handled Obeni’s punishment, Julius Amadi Nyerere, also alleged that the victim was paid to destroy the community’s tradition.
He added: “From what is happening, we are beginning to see that he was paid to destroy our tradition; that it was an intentional act. This is a traditional thing; there is nobody that asked us to punish this guy. We are not working for any particular human being. We know the English man has his own way of doing things but in the traditional setting, we have a way of doing our things. Like if you go abroad, if you flog your child you might end up in the police cell. Here, we use cane to correct our children to make them grow up better and that is what our tradition is all about.”
I’ve no hand in victim’s torture, says ex-LG chair
When contacted, the immediate past Chairman of Afikpo North Local Government, Enyim, said he was not around when Obeni was tortured.
He also denied sponsoring the torture and having any hand in it.
But he alleged that his opponents have been using Obeni to smear his image, adding that the cleric’s activities were disturbing the peace of the community.
He said: “I am just hearing it; the whole thing has been alien to me. I was not involved in any gathering or inducing anybody or group to mete out any punishment on anybody. The whole thing is alien to me. It is getting to two years that political detractors and opponents bought him to be smearing my image in any form, knowing fully well that he doesn’t carry the courage or the capacity for me to be having problems with him. I see my detractors as weak people because they cannot come out openly to face me, they go for a cheap way of fighting me. So, I have not, even in any form, replied the whole rubbish written against me. I never cared to reply to them.
“I am just hearing that it is the Essa traditional rulership which is the unity pot of the Amasiri community that decided that the guy should be punished. Though I am from the Amasiri community, I am not a member of Essa. I can never be involved in what Essa is doing; I don’t have the right. The Essa is the sacred place and if they invite you, you even leave whatever you are doing and go and answer them. It is a thing that we inherited and it transcends. So, I cannot even do anything about it because there is a way I will do, they will banish me. The activities of this guy that was punished are disturbing the peace of the community. It is disturbing the peace of the society.”
I wept during Obeni’s torture -Elder brother
Obeni’s elder brother and Senior Pastor of God’s Descendants Assembly International, Amasiri, Ugo, said he had to buy off the remaining 18 strokes of the cane Obeni was to receive when he met the punishment as he was looking for some people who would help him plead for leniency on Obeni when the Isi-oru age grade was punishing him.
Ugo told our correspondent that he has severally warned his younger brother to desist from posting unverified things against leaders of the community and that Obeni has continued to disobey him.
He said: “I have been finding it very difficult to go to the village because they are even thinking that I didn’t play my role and that is why he was beaten the way he was beating. But when I was called over that matter, I went through the posts my brother made on Facebook and apologised and pleaded on his behalf for him to be forgiven.
“Yes, what he was accused of that he did, he never denied it anyway; he said that was what he did and he never knew that it wasn’t a truthful story, that he borrowed it from where he is an admin in a Facebook page called Amasiri Palate. I discovered that when he lifted it, he also doctored what he lifted from that place. So, he accepted that it was an error. So, with that, I was pleading on behalf of him among my Isi-oru members. When I was just trying to make a move to see how I can bring some other persons who could also stand to plead on his behalf, before my arrival, the punishment designated to such a person was already on and I came in and was still pleading to buy off the remaining strokes that were given to him.
“Normally, if you commit any offence that is very detrimental to the community, you will be given 50 strokes of the cane. The 50 strokes represent five villages; every village will have their representative with 10 strokes. When I came in when they were giving him the strokes, they said it was already 32 and I had to intervene. I pleaded to be allowed to buy the remaining 18 strokes of the cane and that was N9,000. That was how they stopped beating him again.
“It wasn’t easy for me to see my brother going through such pains because of what he committed, I wept and I can’t remember when last I wept the way I did seeing him undergoing such punishment. I am still feeling bad about it till now. Where I felt bad about my younger brother is that he never listened to me as his Senior Pastor and his elder brother because he has posted those things several times. At times, I confronted him. He caused a very big problem between me and Hon. Oko Enyim because I have been accused that I am the one encouraging him to be writing those false information against him.
“I have called my brother several times and told him to stop writing against people on social media because social media is where people display whatever they think they can display without any control but he wouldn’t listen to me. That was why I accused him one day of not being submissive to me as his elder brother and told him what people are saying about us; that we are doing family ministry and fighting people.”
Age grade leaders’ arrest
As a result of the 30-year-old man’s torture, the state police command arrested Julius Amadi Nyerere, the chairman of the Isi-oru age grade, and nine others for the assault.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Loveth Odah, disclosed the arrest in a statement.
She said: “On 14th of May, about 5p.m. Pastor Oko Chukwu Obeni (30), of Ndukwe Amasiri village in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State reported at Afikpo North
Division that Isi-oru Age Grade led by Julius Amadi Nyerere and deputised by Eze Ogbonna, all of the same address, dragged him to the Ogo Play Ground in the area, tied his both hands to the back and flogged him severely with canes which infected multiple injuries all over his body and poured on him filthy water.”
Odah said that following the report, the victim was immediately taken to the hospital for proper medical care and he was responding to treatment.
She added: “Subsequently, the leader of the Isi-oru Age Grade, Julius Amadi Nyerere, and nine others were arrested in connection with the case.”
The PPRO said the preliminary investigation revealed that the assault was as result of a post made by the victim on one of the popular social media platforms, Facebook, condemning a particular action of Afikpo North Local Government Chairman, Hon. Ogbonnia Oko Enyim, and commending the traditional ruler of the area and his cabinet over the decision taken against the council boss for such action.
She added that the local government chairman’s loyalists were allegedly angered by this post on the said platform, causing them to take the laws into their hands, thereby committing the heinous crime.
My ordeal, by the victim
Obeni narrated his ordeal to some journalists on the phone.
He described his experience in the hands of those who punished him as the worst in his life.
The cleric vowed that he would not relent in holding those in the positions of authority accountable.
Obeni’ claimed that he was under duress to make a public apology over his various posts against leaders of the community which he said were all true and properly reported the way things happened in the community.
He said: “I never experienced the kind of ugly treatment they gave me. They tied my hands behind my back and up till this very moment, I can’t make use of my hands. I can’t hold any object. They forced me to drink gutter water and did all sorts of things to me. They put my body through all manners of inhuman treatment, aside from flogging me 36 times.
“Those people made me stay on my knees for over two and a half hours inside the gutter. So, to be honest with you, my strength was failing me and I needed freedom. I lost consciousness twice. All I needed was freedom. I noticed blood was not flowing through my veins anymore. Whatever anyone told me to say at the point to regain my freedom, I would say. If you watch that video, you will hear where in my dialect, I was begging them to loosen the knot in the rope used to tie both my hands together.
“They said they would ask me some questions and if I answered them correctly, they would free me. I said I would answer their questions. It was a terrible experience. And so, whatever I said in that video, I said it under duress. Whatever apology or plea I made in that video was for the sake of my freedom. I knew they weren’t going to be binding on me and I never meant them.”
NHRC, HURIDE kick
Meanwhile, two human rights organisations in the state, National Human Right Commission (NHRC) and the Human Rights Defenders (HURIDE), have condemned Obeni’s torture and called for justice on the matter.
Speaking with our correspondent, the state Coordinator of NHRC, Okorie Christpher Onyekachi, described the punishment given to Obeni as very obnoxious.
Onyekachi said NHRC and HURIDE in the state had to bring the victim to the hospital where he narrated his ordeal to them
He said: “Some of our partners and collaborators were informed about the issue of Pastor Okochi Obeni before us. But immediately they intervened, that is the Human Rights Defenders, the Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Ebonyi State here, we were able to bring the victim to hospital here in Abakaliki. We interviewed him in the hospital and he narrated his ordeal. We already communicated with the DPO, Afikpo North, over the matter and he told us that his men were already on ground to fish out the culprits involved.
“So, we are following the matter up. We are still dealing with the video to know those that were directly involved during the torture. Those who were directly involved in this inhuman and degrading treatment of this victim will tell us who actually was responsible and who sent them to carry out such an obnoxious act against a fellow human being.”
On its part, HURIDE said the victim was treated like a common criminal and urged lovers of justice to rise up and speak against the torture to prevent future occurance.
In a statement signed by its Chairman, Comrade Sampson Oko Nweke, Secretary, Comrade Nwancho Chukwudi, and Comrade Chinasa Awo Okereke, the group said “in the course of our investigation and interview with the victim who is currently at the Alex Ekwueme Teaching Hospital, where he is receiving treatment, it was discovered that the victim, upon his arrival at the designation, was made to lie down facing the sun for hours, thereafter, Isi-oru task force was given order to tie him up with his hands at his back and forced to drink dirty water.
“They compelled him to make statements discrediting the posts he made online, which he did while some aides to the Afikpo North council boss, Ikechukwu Amicable and Okpara Akpu Mbe, took pictures and made videos of him which were posted online and have already gone viral.
“He was later untied on the orders of the said Nyerere and one Unya Enyi Unya read to his hearing, the verdict passed on him by the Essa Ruling Council. The judgement states that he rewrites the posts that they claimed were against the council boss and secondly that he be given 50 strokes of cane. He received 32 strokes of the cane and the remaining 18 strokes, after much pleas from his brother, were paid off with N500 for each stroke, totalling N9,000. Okochi was later asked to pull down his Facebook account and other online platforms he runs on Facebook.
“This inhumane, callous, barbaric torture and abuse of the fundamental human rights of Okochi Chukwu Obeni is highly condemned by the Human Rights Defenders of Nigeria and we urge other human rights bodies, security agencies and other concerned bodies/citizens to rise up in one voice and speak up against this evil act carried out by the people mentioned above to forestall future occurrence, as injustice to one is injustice to all.
Umahi probes torture
The state government last week set up a five-man panel to investigate the alleged human rights abuses in Amasiri.
The panel, headed by former Minister of State for Health, Chief Fidelis Nwankwo, has Hon. Chris Usulor (a member of the state House of Assembly), Ray Nkama (a commissioner in the state) and Aleke Tobechi (a lawyer) as members, while Mr. Emeka Nwode (also a lawyer) serves as secretary.
Inaugurating the panel on behalf of Governor Dave Umahi, the state Deputy Governor, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, said the state government frowned at the human rights abuses in the Amasiri community.
Igwe charged the panel to, among other things, identify persons remotely or otherwise involved in the dastardly act; recommend to government appropriate measures against the perpetrators as well as provide measures against future occurrence in Amasiri and other parts of the state.
The deputy governor, who explained that members were chosen based on their track records and integrity, urged them to submit the interim report within seven days while the final report should be ready in two weeks.
The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Cletus Ofoke (a lawyer), said the present administration is anchored on integrity and will not tolerate any form of human rights violations
Ofoke expressed confidence in the calibre of people on the panel.
Responding, the Chairman of the panel, Nwankwo, thanked the state government for finding them competent to carry out the assignment and promised that the panel will deliver on its mandate.
The committee has commenced sitting and has summoned the victim, Obeni, the former local government Chairman, Enyim, the member representing Afikpo South West constituency in the state House of Assembly, Ikoro, the traditional ruler of Amasiri, HRH Charles Azuenya, among others.
The people are anxiously waiting for the panel’s report and recommendations which may bring to an end the traditional punishment in Amasiri and other parts of the state.